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CTV appetite has fuelled a plague of bots, how do brands fight back?

By Daniel White, Group Director, EMEA, DoubleVerify

In 2020 CTV went mainstream.

Since the start of the pandemic, daily time spent consuming digital content skyrocketed globally from 3 hours 17 minutes to 6 hours 59 minutes, driven by nearly half of consumers (44%) spending more time using CTV devices.

The CTV market has been further buoyed by the success of streaming services. For example, Disney+ recently blew past Wall Street expectations, having attracted over 100 million users and Netflix hit over 200 million members. The consumption of CTV isn’t slowing down either, the free to air streaming service ITV Hub reported 15% growth in 2020, reaching 30 million UK subscribers.

Worryingly, fraudsters are riding on the coattails of CTV’s meteoric rise, with CTV fraud impressions having increased 220% in 2020 (compared with 2019), and 500,000 fraudulent device signatures detected daily. While the opportunity presented to brands by CTV can’t be ignored, marketers need to better understand the dangers to navigate the risks of fraud on this emerging channel.

How are bad actors committing CTV fraud?

CTV fraud is a big and growing business. Most recently, DoubleVerify’s (DV) Fraud Lab has uncovered the first server-side ad insertion (SSAI) scheme known to hijack real CTV device sessions: SneakyTerra. SneakyTerra marks an important evolution in CTV fraud by being far more sophisticated than other large SSAI schemes, such as LeoTerra/StreamScam and ParrotTerra, which DV’s Fraud Lab first identified and began blocking last year.

SSAI schemes spoof legitimate devices and apps in three key steps. Firstly, the fraudsters gather legitimate user details (like app bundle IDs or IP addresses). They then copy these details to mask their fraudulent activity. Finally, these spoofed details of legitimate users are used to send fraudulent ad requests into the ecosystem.

The scale of these requests aren’t insignificant! At its peak, SneakyTerra, as a highly sophisticated scheme, spoofed over 2 million devices each day and could have cost unprotected advertisers more than $5 million per month, based on an average $20 CPM across CTV. This is why they must be identified and stopped.

Alongside SSAI fraud, operators are also spoofing inventory by purchasing low-price mobile or desktop inventory, fraudulently representing it as higher-quality CTV inventory, and selling it on for 10 or 20 times the original price paid.

Elsewhere, fraudsters are creating their own CTV apps, or app creation tools, which might be incorporated by unsuspecting creators or downloaded by unsuspecting consumers, which then generate false impressions.

Between SSAI, spoofing, and fraudulent apps, the CTV environment has several risk factors. However, these bad actors aren’t operating uncontested.

With the right knowledge and technology, marketers can outflank the fraudsters.

Creating a safe, measurable and authenticated CTV environment

Identifying and blocking fraud is crucial to protecting ad spend and boosting brand trust in CTV.

By monitoring and understanding fraudulent behaviour in real-time and using sophisticated human-tuned algorithms to identify anomalies, technology can now accurately identify, stop, and even predict, schemes.

Yet the fight against fraud isn’t about a single technology. To build CTV’s defences in the long term, we need industry collaboration and a focus on transparency and standardisation given right now, app-level transparency is only available on around half of CTV impressions globally, and content-level transparency is effectively unavailable. When it comes to collaboration, CTV Certification Programmes can protect advertisers and build confidence by validating the legitimacy of inventory through a third party.

Meanwhile, embracing standards, like the IAB’s guidelines on app naming, can boost visibility over where ads run. This is key if we are to tackle the exploitable uncertainty created by the current situation, in which, for example, a single CTV app can have over 250 different IDs.

Finally, verification and viewability solutions will be key to improving clarity on CTV campaign performance. Currently, CTV does not have a defined standard for viewability, so we must work together to embrace a cross-platform approach, leveraging new and existing solutions and standards that can scale to the CTV environment.

The bottom line: advertisers need definitive measures of quality on CTV, which work to create clarity across the disparate environment.

CTV is here to stay

Despite its challenges, CTV has a bright future and CTV content consumption is likely to continue to grow.

Just as the ecosystem itself needs to work together to tackle fraud, increase standardisation and visibility, and level-up the environment as a whole, brands should look to collaborate with third-party experts on the right approach to CTV for them.

By monitoring and tackling fraudsters, and working together to create and embrace a more transparent, accountable ecosystem, those across the ad industry can help CTV cement its position as an essential and valuable environment for years to come.

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